Before the Flood (2016)

*. Ten years after An Inconvenient Truth really upped the visibility of global climate change as a political issue, Before the Flood only underlines how little has been achieved. Where the earlier movie basically just filmed a PowerPoint presentation by Al Gore, this one follows Leonardo DiCaprio about the globe as he looks at the effects of climate change being happening now while interviewing scientists and political leaders.
*. I mention the dates because the basic message here hasn’t changed in the decade since Al Gore’s movie. Human activity is causing all sorts of environmental degradation (climate change, pollution, species extinction), the effects of which are only going to get worse. But there seems little chance of things getting better. As one interviewee puts it, our political leaders, no matter how well-intentioned, are not really leaders. They follow the political winds. In our own time, these winds, with a lot of help from the corporate media, have been blowing steadily against any change of course.
*. Part of the problem is highlighted by DiCaprio’s meeting with Elon Musk. Now whatever you think of Musk, and his reputation has slid a bit (while his bank account has grown) in the years since this film’s release, I think it’s ridiculous to think he’s going to be part of any solution. DiCaprio might as well have spoken to Richard Branson, an airline owner and novelty space-mission backer who also likes to talk a lot about environmental issues. The bottom line is this: it would be hard to think of a class of people less invested in there being any change to the status quo than corporate billionaires. If you’re looking for white knights who will help change the world then you’re looking at the wrong guys. If they are our last best hope, we’re doomed.
*. This is part of what has become a larger problem with environmental messaging. Much of it has become wrapped up, particularly by its critics, as celebrity or elite posturing. Movie stars or pop stars who make their statements about downsizing and consuming less while living in mansions all over the world and burning boatloads of fossil fuels on private jets.

*. It’s a hard charge to counter. I’m willing to bet DiCaprio’s carbon footprint is several orders of magnitude larger than mine. And while the filmmakers here paid a voluntary carbon tax to offset the carbon emissions of the production, it still seems like it was a pretty carbon-intensive project.
*. I think you just have to look past this though. Even if you can’t stand Hollywood slebs lecturing you on how you should live your life you should at least be aware of the unsustainability if not clear and present danger of our current mass-production/mass-consumption lifestyles. DiCaprio and director Fisher Stevens do a good job putting the case before us, but watching the movie eight years after its initial release I came away depressed at how everything described has only gotten worse, while politically we have even managed to go backward. It’s not that movies like this aren’t alarming enough, but rather that they seem to be missing a more fundamental point. Some inconvenient truths, like our continuing to behave the way we do despite understanding all of the risks, have become taboo.
*. I’ll end off on a lighter note. The MPAA warning alerts you to “some nude and suggestive art images.” As far as I can tell this can only refer to the pictures shown of Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” a print of which DiCaprio’s parents hung over his crib and which is used as a thematic touchstone at the beginning and end of the movie. That Bosch’s painting requires a warning struck me as kind of funny, given the fact that apparently baby Leonardo had no trouble looking up at its nude and suggestive imagery from his crib. I’m sure there were scarier things being shown on the nightly news, or going on outside his window.

7 thoughts on “Before the Flood (2016)

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